With full determination heading to the wire, South Africa's two-time Horse of the Year, Legal Eagle, with Anton Marcus up, won his third consecutive L'Ormarins Queen's Plate (G1) Jan. 6 at Kenilworth Racecourse over longshot Copper Force (SAF) and earned an automatic berth into the $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile (G1T) through the international Breeders' Cup Challenge series.
The Breeders' Cup Challenge, which provides automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race into the Breeders' Cup World Championships, began its 12th season Saturday. One race before the Queen's Plate, the 3-year-old filly Oh Susanna (AUS) won the Cartier Paddock Stakes (G1) for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles, and earned an automatic berth into the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1T).
The 2018 Breeders' Cup World Championships will be held Nov. 2-3 at Churchill Downs.
As a part of the benefits of the Challenge series, the Breeders' Cup will pay the pre-entry and entry fees for the winners of Saturday's races, and will also provide a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships. The Challenge winner must be nominated to the Breeders' Cup program by the Championships' pre-entry deadline of Oct. 22 to receive the rewards.
Trained by Sean Tarry for new owners Braam van Huyssteen, William Henderson, and Hedley McGrath, Legal Eagle, a 6-year-old gelding by Greys Inn, has now won 12 of 21 lifetime starts. Sent away as the 7-10 favorite in the one-mile Queen's Plate in a 12-horse field, Legal Eagle trailed pacesetter Captain America (AUS) by four lengths with about two furlongs remaining when he started a drive four paths from the rail, and leading a host of closers heading to the wire.
At the line, Legal Eagle wore down Captain America and had just enough to hold off Copper Force along the inside, who finished a neck in front of Captain America. Sail South (SAF) finished fourth, just a head in front of Marinaresco (SAF) hitting the wire on the outside, with the first five finishers separated by about a length. The final time was 1:38.14.
"You better believe I was," said winning rider Marcus when asked if he was concerned about Captain America's margin down the stretch. Prior to the race Marcus and Tarry figured that Captain America would be on the lead and that "it would be decided in the final furlong."
One race before the Queen's Plate, the 3-year-old filly Oh Susanna broke free in the last 200 yards and held off Lady in Black (SAF) to win the Cartier Paddock Stakes against 15 rivals in a time of 1:51.46.
Trained by Justin Snaith for Drakenstein Stud, and ridden by Grant Van Niekerk, Oh Susanna, won her first race since breaking her maiden last April. A bay daughter of Street Cry out of Sharp Susan by Touch Gold, Oh Susanna came into the Paddock Stakes off a second place finish in the World Sports Betting Fillies Guineas (G1) at a mile Dec. 2 at Kenilworth. Nother Russia (SAF) the 7-2 favorite, finished fourth.
"She's a lovely filly, a filly who's very close to my heart because I ride her all the time at work," said Van Niekerk afterward to TAB News. "She gives me a tough time but we work well together—we're both a bit 'dill.' I'm glad it worked out well."